Leaning trees are a landscape flaw as well as a health hazard. How many times have you looked at a leaning tree in your yard and felt satisfied with your handiwork? Chances are you avoid looking in the direction of the tree, let alone go near it. Whether it’s the mighty oak, the stately cassia, or the elegant Japanese maple, trees lean for various reasons.
However, there’s no need to take drastic measures such as cut down the tree and start all over again because no matter what the size or age of the leaning trees, you can still fix their awry posture. This goes for young trees as well as large ones. Cutting leaning trees should be the last option on your list.
So what makes trees lean? And how would you go about straightening the tree without damaging the trunk, main branches, or roots? Read on to find out all about the causes of leaning trees and how to fix the bent trunks.
Causes of Leaning Trees
Despite your best efforts and no matter how much gardening experience you have, leaning trees can happen at any time. Sometimes it’s actually your fault as you might have picked the wrong spot for this type of tree. But in most cases, the reasons would have to do with the elements, the unstable soil, or unpredictable weather patterns. Here are some of the main causes of leaning trees.
- Underdeveloped Roots: One of the main causes of leaning trees is the roots themselves. A robust root system usually keeps the tree stable in the ground. But if for some reason, the roots don’t develop fully before the tree starts growing, the top-heavy tree will keel over.
- Wind: If you live in an area that gets steady and strong wind, then you need to protect your tree at least in the first few years of its life until it has been established in the soil. The relentless wind will make the tree lean in the other direction.
- Unstable Soil: Unlike plants and shrubs that thrive in loose and loamy soil, trees need stable soil that offers support to their roots. If you plant the young tree in sandy soil, by the time it develops its heavy canopy, the soil will not be able to keep it standing upright.
- Wrong Timing: Most trees need to be planted at a specific time of the year. Usually, that would be in the early spring to take advantage of the warm soil and the favorable weather conditions. If you plant the tree in the fall instead of the early spring, the frost and freezing soil will stunt its growth. The roots won’t have enough time to develop, and the tree would start to lean under the weight of its heavy branches.
- Moist Soil: Even if the soil is dense and heavy enough to support the mature tree, constant moisture in the soil can weaken it and put the tree in jeopardy. When planting a tree, make sure the spot you choose is away from running water and doesn’t get waterlogged often.
Straighten Young Leaning Trees
Young trees are more susceptible to leaning problems than large ones. That’s because the root system is still developing, which makes it vulnerable to anything from strong wind to wet or unstable soil. And when we say a young tree, we mean a tree that’s less than one year old. However, since the tree trunk is still thin and young, that means it’s easy to fix the leaning tree at this stage of its life. This is how you fix a young leaning tree in easy steps.
- You can either use a wooden or metal stake as long as it’s sturdy.
- Drive the stake into the ground close to the tree using a sledgehammer.
- Make sure you’re outside the area where the root system of the tree grows.
- Place the stake in the same direction where the wind comes from and position it at a 45-degree angle.
- Use a garden hose to get the soil around the tree base thoroughly wet.
- Stand in the direction where the tree is leaning and place both your hands against the trunk of the tree right above where the tree starts to lean.
- Press your hands against the tree, applying even and steady pressure.
- Once the root ball shifts and the tree trunks yield under your pressure, pack the soil with your feet to stabilize the root ball.
- Tie a rope around the tree and fasten it to the stake. Make sure it’s secure, but it should allow the tree to sway a little.
- It will take up to a year for the tree roots to develop and the tree to anchor itself. Then you can remove the rope and the stake.
How to Straighten Large Leaning Trees
Unlike young trees, large and established trees are not that easy to fix. They won’t yield easily to pressure due to the thickness of the trunk and the robust root ball of a tree this size. As you might expect, stakes alone will not work well with large leaning trees. Instead, you will be digging a trench to help straighten the tree. Here’s how to do it in simple steps.
- Measure the thickest part of the trunk using a measuring tape. This will give you an idea of how large the ditch will be.
- Use a shovel to dig a trench two feet deep around the base of the tree. The idea is to free the roots to make it easier to straighten the tree trunk.
- The width of the trench should be relative to the size of the trunk. For every one inch of the tree trunk, dig 10 inches in the ground.
- When done digging the trench, wrap a thick pad or a few old blankets around the tree trunk to protect the bark.
- Wrap a sturdy and thick rope around the tree trunk and tie it securely.
- Tie the other end of the rope to a tractor or a car. If you have enough manpower, then you won’t need the vehicle.
- Pull at the rope slowly but steadily until the tree responds to you.
- Don’t try to pull the tree straight up in one go. This could damage the roots beyond repair. Instead, pull it up in small increments.
- When the tree is fully upright, refill the trench and pack the soil around the base.
- You might need to keep the tree tethered to the ground for a few months until the root ball anchors in the soil.
Tips for Fixing Leaning Trees
Although the above steps to fixing leaning trees seem simple enough, they are anything but. Unforeseen circumstances could arise and complicate the process of straightening the tree up. The following tips will come in handy, and they are relevant to all tree ages and sizes.
- Always go easy on the tree trunk when bending it up. The tree has been in this position for months, so yanking it back upwards could damage the trunk and the root system. Medium-size and large trees could take months to become fully upright.
- Give the straightened tree enough space to grow. You might have to prune any trees around it to improve air movement and sun exposure.
- When the straightened tree is well anchored in the ground, you can remove the ropes and stakes.
- The ties you put around the tree trunks are not permanent. Even if you put them there for only a year, the tree will grow during that period. So you need to adjust the knot and allow the tree room to grow and sway.
- Always use a pad around the trunk before you tie the rope. This will protect the bark.
- Established trees need extra care when handling their roots. Make sure the roots are loosened in advance, or you might damage them.
- After straightening the large tree, fill back the trench and pack the soil firmly. You can mix the soil with fertilizer and water the tree to help the soil settle.
How to Prevent Leaning Trees Problem
As you can see, it takes a lot of time and effort to get the leaning trees straightened up and pointing to the sky again. So what can you do to prevent this problem from ever happening to your trees? Here are a few considerations for you when choosing a new tree to plant in your yard or your garden.
- As every arborist will tell you, you should only plant trees that are suited to your region or zone. Adverse weather conditions can have a negative impact on the tree’s growth.
- Always plant the new tree in the right season. When in doubt, you can consult with the nursery where you bought the tree.
- When selecting a spot for the young tree, make sure there’s enough space for the mature tree. It shouldn’t be too close to a wall or a fence that could push the trunk the other way and cause it to lean.
- Trees with invasive roots shouldn’t be planted near underground pipes, sidewalks, or driveways. The roots could get entangled with the structures near them, which affects the stability of the tree.
- Look for the right fertilizer for your specific tree species. Both organic and chemical fertilizers can boost the growth of the tree and help it establish faster.
- Water is important for the tree, especially in the first few years of its life. You should have a steady source of water conveniently close to the tree. Without adequate water, the root system of the tree will take longer to develop, which increases the risk of the tree leaning to one side.
- Select a spot that gets enough sunlight. Most trees need the full sun to grow and thrive. Partial or full shade could weaken the tree’s structure.